Media still claim “nuclear option” is a Democratic term

Major news outlets have continued to misattribute the term “nuclear option” to Senate Democrats even though it was coined by Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), one of the leading advocates of the proposed change to Senate rules that would bar the filibuster of judicial nominees. Moreover, it was only after Republican strategists deemed the term a political liability that Republican senators began to attribute it to Democrats. Many in the news media have followed suit, repeating the Republicans' false attribution of the term to the Democrats.

As Joshua Micah Marshall recently noted on his blog, Talking Points Memo, correspondent Chip Reid reported on the May 12 edition of NBC's Nightly News that “Republicans are so angry” at Democratic filibusters that “they're planning what Democrats call the nuclear option.” This was a variation on Reid's even more erroneous claim, on the April 25 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, that the “nuclear option” is what “Democrats call” their response to the rule change, “meaning 'we're going to shut this place [the Senate] down.' ”

Similarly, in a May 10 Chicago Tribune article, as noted on Talking Points Memo, reporters Jill Zuckman and Andrew Zajac erroneously reported that “nuclear option ... is the term Democrats have given to the possible end to the filibuster.” This error occurred even though, on April 28, the Tribune had run correction to an April 25 article that misattributed the “nuclear option” to Democrats.

In an April 29 Christian Science Monitor commentary, National Public Radio senior news analyst Daniel Schorr quoted Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) claim that “opponents” call the rule change the “nuclear option” without noting the term's Republican origins and history.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Janet Hook reported on May 8 that “Democrats and some Republicans have dubbed [the rule change] the 'nuclear option,' ” when, in fact, it was Republicans who did the original “dubbing.”